Another reminder that good regulations save lives

Imagine going to a fast-food restaurant and unknowingly consuming food contaminated with toxic chemicals. Or buying cooking oil laden with carcinogens. Or purchasing medicine that makes you sick because it contains excessive levels of the heavy metal chromium.

Sadly, these are not hypothetical situations but real problems discovered in recent years in China. The Chinese financial newspaper Caixin Online declares that “these publicized food safety scandals represent only a fraction of [the] unsafe food production practices.” Caixin concludes that food safety in China is “governed by the law of the jungle.”

China’s food safety problems are not limited to small mom-and-pop businesses. The bad fast-food referred to above was the result of a toxic chemical being added to chicken served at McDonald’s and KFC restaurants. The carcinogenic food oil was found in Wal-Mart. A big business is not a guarantee of a safe product.

In the early 20th century, the United States faced food and drug crises similar to the ones in China today. These crises in the United States led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration and to dramatic improvements in American health and life expectancy. While the United States still has its share of contaminated food, the rate of problems in the United States is far below that of China. As Caixin states, “the size and severity of the food safety crisis” in China “is unique.” There is less toxic food in the United States, in part, because we have a stronger regulatory and enforcement system.

These days, conservatives regularly condemn regulation, but the fact of the matter is that regulations save lives. Last month, my colleague Ross Eisenbrey illustrated how good Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards save lives in the workplace. Experts in China believe that achieving real food safety there will require much more action and involvement by the Chinese government.


  • Government regulation of health issues and food/work safety is keeping working class Americans alive and have been for over a hundred years.

    Now Republicans want to roll back everything from the EPA to child labor laws.  Serving their corporate masters well don’t they?

  • Kelley Gulley


    You raise an issue that hits a personal nerve for me.

    I have a dear friend who lives in China. She chooses to live there. She teaches English at one of the universities, but the best work she does is foster a young girl who previously has only known an orphanage as a home.

    I’m hopeful that as my friend is essentially saving the life of this young girl that her love, support and work won’t be thwarted by consuming toxins in her food.

    In the US, I wonder how many families will be and/or are already being impacted by relaxed regulations across the multiplicity of industries that impact our lives. Let’s not sleep on this move to relax or remove what has historically protected us from the power and greed of corporate America.

    Let us make sure that the love, support and work that we give to our children and families is not ‘undone’ by lack of necessary regulations, government irresponsibility or corporate greed.